Baltimore County Libraries Re-opening
Baltimore County Public Libraries are reopening for browsing Monday. Library officials call it the next step toward normal after months of curbside service and online programming.
With a few days left until that reopening, the staff at the Woodlawn branch of the library had a checklist.
“Let’s move these things into the meeting room, 'cause they don’t need to be here, right?” suggested Kate Sigler, the assistant branch manager.
The work is mostly devoted to putting the library back to a semblance of normal. Branch manager Zeke White points to all the COVID changes: toys are gone from the kids' area; every other computer is covered with a plastic bag and furniture blocks off the bookshelves.
“Of course, that will be moved as we open for browsing,” he said.
“And the caution tape will come down,” Sigler joked.
Sigler said it’s been hard not running the library as a welcoming space.
“We had to make the space as uninviting as possible during COVID,” she said, “’Cause we’ve had people coming in for computer appointments, but we wanted to discourage them from browsing, from using the children’s area.”
But all that’s changing now. While patrons can still get materials curbside, they can also come into the library to browse.
Each branch has a limit on the number of customers who can browse at one time. Patrons will be asked to socially distance and wear masks. Service will be as contactless as possible.
Circulation manager Shirley Mason said the decision to allow browsing was guided by science.
“More people get vaccinated, the positivity rate drops, hospitalizations drop,” Mason said. “And the health department is also guiding the county on what to do and when to move forward.”
Library officials say they hope to bring back in-person programs, like story time, in the fall. Normal is still a few months in the future. White says in their reopening so far, they’re starting to hear from customers who are grateful for the library.
One person told him he “‘left in tears because this person helped me,’” White recalled.
He said those are the kinds of stories they’re starting to hear again.
“So, to get back to that and to have some sort of semblance of normalcy, I’m really excited and I think the staff are really looking forward to reconnecting with the community too.”
Local residents share that excitement. Patrons often come to the door and ask if they’re allowed back in yet. The library staff is happy to finally have a positive answer.
Mark Miller’s library of choice is the Arbutus branch. He said his family likes the curbside service. But this new stage of reopening could allow them to return to how they used the library pre-pandemic.
“We browse at the library a lot. The library is lovely to visit,” Miller said. “We use it for a lot of comic books. My son loves comic books.”
Miller and his family still plan to take COVID into account as they consider their return to the library.
“We’re fully vaccinated, but my son is not old enough to be fully vaccinated,” he said. “So, we’re going to, I guess, play it by ear.”
Local therapist Ashley Nicole Sullivan is looking forward to the library’s return as a public space.
“For one thing it’s obviously gonna be a sign of recovery and hope for people,” Sullivan said. “But on the broader sense, you know, libraries are actually a really integral part of our community and what helps people feel connected to a larger group.”
Sullivan said libraries serve an important function by providing a space for people to learn new skills and to connect with other community resources.
But they benefit people in smaller ways too, Mason adds. She recalled talking to a customer at curbside pickup.
“And I was telling her when we would be reopening and what would be available, and she said, ‘and you can add chat time to that too,’” Mason said. “And I said, ‘I totally understand.’”
Chat time and browsing will run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.